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     Addendum To Survey And Research Report On Ovens Auditorium And The Charlotte Coliseum (Former)

Lara Ramsey

March 12, 2001

The former Charlotte Coliseum (now known as Independence Arena) and Ovens Auditorium, Charlotte’s first municipal stadium and auditorium, were hailed as “architectural marvels” by architects, public officials, and Charlotteans when they first opened to a crowd of thousands in 1955.  North Carolina Governor Luther Hodges proclaimed the Coliseum “a perfect building,” and a Charlotte resident attending the grand opening declared, “We’ve been waiting twenty-five years for Charlotte to do something like this.”1 Designed by A.G. Odell & Associates, the modern complex drew national attention for its “fresh, futuristic design” and was featured in several publications.2

            The former Coliseum, with its aluminum-covered dome measuring 332 feet in diameter, received the lion’s share of the publicity.  In 1956, Look magazine printed a three-quarter page color photograph of the building, calling it the “world’s biggest dome.”3  The building’s large seating capacity was ideal for sporting events and big-name acts like Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones.  Between 1955 and 1988, over 20 million people attended events at the former Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium.4   As the years passed, however, it became apparent that the city was outgrowing its first Coliseum.  With the building of the new Charlotte Coliseum on Tyvola Road, there were concerns that leaving the former Coliseum open would provide competition for the new 24,000-seat arena.   When the new Coliseum opened in 1988, the old Coliseum closed its doors.5 

            With the city’s rapid growth, many people began to rethink the idea of using the smaller venue to compliment the new Coliseum.  In 1991, the city granted a 35-year lease on the Coliseum to the Independence Arena Management Group, owned jointly by D.L. Phillips Co. (owners of Merchandise Mart) and Arena Associates, Inc.  The Group began raising funds for a renovation of the Coliseum, which was renamed Independence Arena.6  The project would eventually cost over $4 million to complete – approximately the same amount of money that had been spent to build the Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium in the 1950’s.7    

            Most of the renovation involved updating existing parts of the Coliseum.  The sound system and lighting system were updated, as were the restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, concession stands, and the box office.  A new scoreboard and two new message boards were installed.  The building was also made more accessible to the handicapped.  An elevator was installed to transport visitors to the upper concourse, where ramps led to six areas that could accommodate up to six wheelchairs each.8

            Special care was also taken to preserve the original features of the building.  The original oak floor was refinished, and the ice floor (consisting of 12 miles of pipe) was inspected and found to be in working order.  The original maple folding seats were also refinished.  Richard Cherry, who was hired by the city to inspect the building prior to the renovation, noted that “after 37 years, there was less than 1% breakage in the

seats . . .they are very sturdy, they look great, and we didn’t have to spend $400,000 for new plastic seats. 9

The former Coliseum re-opened as Independence Arena on September 18, 2001.  The building that had once been the world’s largest free-span dome was now billed as a “sidekick” to the recently built 25,000-seat Charlotte Coliseum.  The new Coliseum would house Hornets games and big-name entertainment, while Independence Arena would provide a venue for smaller events like UNCC basketball games and Charlotte Checkers matches. 10

            Other changes were made to the former Coliseum in the years following its re-opening.  In 1995, color television monitors were installed in the concourses, and a restaurant-lounge called the Locker Room opened in the building to serve Charlotte Checkers fans with season tickets.11   The former Charlotte Coliseum will soon undergo yet another change – the wireless phone company Cricket has agreed to pay $100,00 to change the name of Independence Arena to Cricket Arena.12

            Although Ovens Auditorium did not undergo the full-scale renovation that the old Coliseum received, the building (which remained open when the Coliseum was forced to close in 1988) has been updated over the past decade.  In August of 1990, new, dark teal seats replaced the original orange and turquoise seating.  103 extra seats were added to the auditorium, increasing its seating capacity to 26,603.13  The original concession counter in the upstairs lounge was replaced in the mid-1990’s with a counter of dark wood that blends with the surrounding bead board.  New furniture was added to the lounge, and new carpeting was installed throughout the building.  Around this time, a two-story addition was built onto the left side of the center section of the auditorium, facing the old Coliseum.  This new addition houses passenger and service elevators and restrooms on the ground floor; a hospitality area occupies the second level.14

            The former Charlotte Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium, although no longer the main venues in the city, remain as architectural icons to many Charlotteans. The modern design of the Coliseum/Auditorium complex drew national attention to Charlotte, and the presence of the buildings helped the city to expand culturally and economically.  

1. “Renovated Facility Flaunts Fifties Flair.” Charlotte Observer, September 15, 1993, special advertising section.

2. Ibid.

3. “Revamped arena ready for its coming out.” Charlotte Observer, August 27, 1993, 1A. 

4. “The NEW old coliseum.”  Charlotte Observer, January 20, 1996. (taken from the vertical file “Public Buildings – Coliseum (Old) in the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room).

5. “The Old Dome.”  Charlotte Magazine, p. 52.

6. “Just sit down and listen up:  new seats at Ovens Auditorium are no smaller, officials say – and that’s the bottom line.”  Charlotte Observer, October 23, 1990, 1-B.

7. Interview with George Hite, February 17, 2001.

8. “The Old Dome.”  Charlotte Magazine, p. 54 (month unknown – article provided by the Coliseum and Convention Center Authority).

9. Ibid.

10. American Institute of Architects, Charlotte Chapter.  “Survey and Research Report on the Charlotte Coliseum (original).”  July 30, 1990, p. 25 (copy of Look magazine article).

11. “The Old Dome”, p. 54.

12. Ibid.

13. “Fans will walk into 1950’s in renovated arena.”  Charlotte Observer, October 20, 1991 (page number unknown – taken from the vertical file “Public Buildings – Coliseum (Old) in the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room).

14. “Charlotte Landmark Gets New Lease On Life.”  Charlotte Observer, September 15, 1993, special advertising section (taken from the vertical file “Public Buildings – Coliseum (Old) in the Robinson Spangler Carolina Room).